Mitchell wins media prize

February 10, 2005, vol. 32, no. 3
By Marianne Meadahl

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Families are at the core of Barbara Mitchell's work. It's a focus that is topical and of broad public interest. And where there's public interest, the media is never far away.

Mitchell appreciates that. A professor of sociology/anthropology and gerontology, she believes that shedding light on the family relationship trends she studies, from empty nest syndrome to cultural influences on living arrangements, is important in the bid to better understand the needs and roles of families.

Mitchell's willingness to answer media calls and provide clarity on such issues has earned her SFU's 2004 President's award for service to the university in media and public relations. It is given to a faculty or staff member who has demonstrated outstanding service to the university by sharing his or her expertise with the larger community through the media and other public relations activity.

"Over the years I've developed a personal interest and commitment to extending my research outside of the walls of academia to the larger community," says Mitchell. "In part, it stems from a strong belief and sense of duty to share research that is socially relevant to many Canadians, especially given my research focus on family life and relationships."

Mitchell also feels "some measure of responsibility to be accountable to the public," since her education and research have received substantial funding over the years.

"It also raises the visibility of our institution, which can have a number of direct and indirect effects for its success," she says. "Not only does it create more awareness of what we do within academia, but it provides opportunities to voice the innovative ideas, scientific discoveries and topical research of the SFU academic community, to a public audience that has a vociferous appetite for knowledge and information."

For example, last fall she reported in the Vancouver Sun that a growing number of families in Canada see an enormous benefit in living under the same roof with many generations of their family.

In an interview with Business Week about boomerang kids, Mitchell pointed out that a key ingredient for mutually satisfying coexistence is "a clear meeting of the minds right from the start." She has been featured on numerous radio talk shows and television networks, including CNN.

Mitchell encourages faculty to participate in the media training workshops provided by the media and public relations office. "I attended the first workshop held five years ago and it helped me greatly to overcome some of my trepidations, such as ‘what if I'm misquoted?' " she says. "It also helped me to become much more comfortable working with the media and gave me valuable tips. I urge faculty to take the time and effort to share their expertise with an interested public mind."

Mitchell has a new book to be released this fall, called The Boomerang Age: Transitions to Adulthood in Families. It examines a wide variety of family transitions, including leaving and returning home, forming heterosexual and homosexual partnerships, becoming parents, and divorce. It also compares timing of contemporary transitions with those during the benchmark 1950s Leave-It-To-Beaver prototypical family type - and will no doubt stir the pot of public interest.

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